Going to college, like many other life transitions, comes with vast and various changes. You’re no longer around the same 50-500 people in your graduating class. Instead, you get the opportunity to meet and befriend many of your fellow students, all of whom have spent the past eighteen years living in different circumstances than you have. While in college, it is important not to isolate yourself to the types of people you gravitated towards in high school.
1. Diversity is a relative term.
In essence, the word diversity is used to describe a degree of variance from the mean or norm. Whenever someone uses the word, they are usually applying it to their personal norm. When I was just starting my college career, a few of my hall mates would often comment about how diverse the school was compared to the area in which they grew up. I wondered what kind of sheltered life they lived to think that single digit percentages of minority populations constituted diversity. Many other students agreed with the views of my hall mates. Likewise, many agreed with my views. What I’ve learned over the course of my time in college is that diversity, like any other descriptive term, has more to do with one’s personal perception than any set of statistics can clearly illustrate. When we realize that everyone is going off of their own frame of reference, it becomes a little easier to understand why there is an abundance of confounding viewpoints on the matter.
2. Don’t take everything about diversity from the media.
I’m sure that everyone has come across a talking animal at some point during their time watching TV. But over time, after having various experiences with dogs, cats and horses, we eventually grow to learn that animals do not, in fact talk. Just like animals are portrayed as able to communicate with people in human languages, people are often portrayed in ways that are inconsistent with reality. However, these caricatures often do more harm than their entertainment value can make up for due to the fact that people in some areas will only ever see a member of a different group through that medium.
For a person that lives in a racially homogenous town, the fallacious images touted as diversity in the media become more than the representation they were expected to be. For the viewer, it runs the chance of becoming the only representation which is then engrained as fact. College is a chance to explore your social horizons by engaging with people from other backgrounds and different lifestyles. Several studies from Ohio State found that interracial roommate couplings reduce prejudice and feelings of bigotry. Why settle for the false image of other people when you have the opportunity to learn first hand what they are like? For some, college may end up being the first and last time exposure to someone different occurs. Make the most of your time in college by embracing the similarities between yourself and others while taking the time to learn from the differences.
3. Diversity applies to more than just race.
The first thing people think about when considering diversity is the difference in skin color and ethnicity. It may be because color is not only readily apparent, but in many of the world’s counties, race and ethnicity carry certain historical undertones that cannot be mollified.
However, there is more to diversity than meets the eye. As I mentioned earlier, diversity has to do with variance from “the standard”. While this depends on where you grew up, much of the time the standard college student is thought to be male, protestant, upper middle class, straight, white, and aged 18-24. In reality, deviations from this standard are starting to become the new standard. A study done by Pew Research Center has found that women are now earning more college degrees than men. Just as this shift is taking place, there are many others that you may come across during your time in college that also subvert the standard paradigm. There are many people of different religions, sexual orientations, socioeconomic living conditions and ages in addition to racial and ethnic differences. Keeping this in mind, it is important to realize that although two individuals may share one facet of identity, there may be variance in another facet. For example, there may be two white, male students who share the facets of gender and race, but differ socioeconomically. Because of this, it is extremely important to treat individuals on a case by case basis rather than making vain assumptions based on what you think you have learned about groups of people over the course of a score.
Diversity has the potential to be one of the best things about leaving home and going to college. With the world becoming more and more connected since the advent of the internet, it is becoming increasingly important to treat people of all backgrounds with respect. What better time is there to get a jump start on becoming a good global citizen?